E2 is one of the world’s most exciting science experiments. It’s a sealed, self-contained environment that contains five micro-ecosystems that can support eight humans. A series of two-year missions are intended to show that humans could survive on Mars in similar enclosures. But the first mission inside E2 was a high-profile failure. E2’s airlock was opened due to a medical emergency and on other occasions as well. For that reason, the potential Mission Two participants agree that closure will not be broken during their mission under any circumstances – nothing will enter and nothing will leave until the mission is complete.
The novel is told from the perspective of three people: Dawn Chapman, Linda Ryu, and Ramsay Roothorp. Dawn and Linda are close friends. They’re both talented and driven individuals, but their bachelor’s degrees limit them to competing for the one position on the team that doesn’t require advanced education – taking care of the dairy and feed animals in E2. Together they agree to support whoever is chosen for the team, but their relationship quickly becomes strained when Dawn is selected.
Ramsay, the unofficial spy for the administration, is guaranteed a spot on Mission Two. He’s hesitant to postpone his relationship with one of the project administrators, but likes the idea of starting one with Dawn inside E2.
With a great deal of excitement and media attention, the participants enter E2 and the airlock is sealed behind them. After some performances for the media, they begin the backbreaking work of day-to-day survival. Inside E2, Dawn and Ramsey deal with hunger, low oxygen levels, team conflict, and loneliness. Outside, Linda is gradually consumed by her jealousy toward Dawn, and re-doubles her efforts to be chosen for Mission Three.
Will Linda’s jealousy destroy her chances for Mission Three? Will the participants inside E2 survive for two years? When the unthinkable happens, will they give up and break closure?
The Terranauts, by T.C. Boyle, is shelved in GPPL’s adult fiction section.
If you enjoy The Terranauts, you may also enjoy the non-fiction title The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2 by Jane Poynter. Poynter was one of the researchers who lived in Biosphere 2 – the real-world equivalent of E2 – from 1991 to 1993. Her book chronicles the initial excitement about the experiment, the dull day-to-day tasks required for survival, the falling oxygen levels, and the conflict among the participants. She and her colleagues ultimately survived two years in Biosphere 2, but closure was broken a number of times.